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Q & A with Mark Adolph, the son of Subbuteo founder Peter Adolph

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Editor Andy Muirhead speaks to Mark Adolph, the son of Subbuteo founder Peter Adolph.

Can you remember your very first game of Subbuteo and when was that? What was the score?

MA: I suppose my first game ever must have been against my Dad, but from an early age I remember just flicking players around in a very haphazard way. When I was old enough to play properly, Dad and I played on a very regular basis, on a table we had set up permanently, and I lost every time!

He never let me win and was always very competitive, so to beat him, or even to score I goal I had to learn to play at my best. For years I just could not win, but my game was steadily improving, and eventually, when I was about twelve or thirteen years old, I DID beat him fairly and squarely and I remember quite clearly that the score was 2-1. That was a momentous result for me, and from that day on I just got the feeling that Dad had to up his game when we played. There was no quarter given on either side and it was all, sadly, very competitive.

Were your friends jealous/envious of you growing up with Dad, the inventor of Subbuteo, when you could get any team that you wanted? And can you still get teams etc, that no one else can get?

MA: No, I don’t think they were at all. To be honest, I don’t think it ever registered with them. It was just friends gathered together to play games of Subbuteo – like millions of other kids did at the time. I am sure that Dad did slip some of my friends the odd team if they wanted and they were happy with that. But certainly there was no envy involved at all. As far as still getting rare teams etc, I do have a fair few teams now, tucked away in a box somewhere, but the rare teams are now bought up by the avid collectors. None of mine I would call particularly rare. Just FREE!!

What was the best game of Subbuteo you have played or have seen being played and why?

MA: I think the best game I have played is any game in which I have won. I used to enjoy watching Dad play, mainly because he played the game how he had always intended it to be played – and that is quite slowly. It’s a bit like a chess match I suppose. He was able to execute in swinging corner kicks which was a sight to behold – a feat which I have been told by tournament players is impossible, but the fact is I witnessed these first hand and know it is possible.

You published a book back in 2006 entitled “Growing Up With Subbuteo – My Dad Invented The World’s Greatest Football Game” How was it received by the hardcore Subbuteo fans and the ordinary punters alike?

MA: My book was received very well I think. There are other books around that just give the history of the game, but I felt that I was in a unique position to give an insight into what went on behind the scenes at Subbuteo and also give a personal account of the life of Peter Adolph. This was always my aim when writing my book and to steer away as much as possible from the exact history, as this information is readily available through other sources. I think the hardcore Subbuteo fans enjoyed it as they were able to get a grip on what made Peter Adolph tick and I believe that anyone reading it who was perhaps not a complete Subbuteo fan, found it to be a very “human” story. I hope that was the case anyway!

Are you proud to be labelled the “ son of Peter Adolph, the inventor of Subbuteo”, or does it get to you at times?

MA: Of course I am proud, but the strange thing is that it is only since Dad died in 1994, that I can look back and actually appreciate what Subbuteo meant to so many people, and see Dad as the inventor rather than just my father. When I was young and Subbuteo was at its peak of popularity, It never occurred to me that my Dad was doing anything any different to everyone elses Dad. What Dad did and was heavily involved in was just “what Dad did”. If that makes any sense. It never meant that much to me. In hindsight, which is a great thing, I wish I had been able to be more aware of what was going on.

Nowadays, I am always happy to talk about Subbuteo and have done quite a few interviews on radio and local television and the press. I suppose I feel privileged that Subbuteo is still in people’s consciousness after sixty odd years.

What was the team you played the most in Subbuteo and why?

MA: Dad was, and I am a QPR supporter, so there was always a battle between us as to who would play Subbuteo with the QPR team. I always lost in the choice of team and Dad played with his QPR side and I more often than not played, using the Man City team. At the time, the late sixties and early seventies, my second team was Man City, as it had players like Colin Bell, Frannie Lee, Mike Summerbee.

What makes Subbuteo so popular even after so many years especially today with the rise of the Computer and Console Football games like Football Manager and Fifa series Pro Evolution Soccer?

MA: Dad was asked in the mid eighties, when these football console games started to appear, what his thoughts were on the subject, and he replied that he felt that there was really no competition between the two genres and they could live quite easily side by side. I think up to a certain point he was correct, but with the advancement of new technology and the high quality graphics that are now available, these have taken over from the more tactile games like Subbuteo.

Of course, Subbuteo is still thriving in what I like to call an underground state, despite it not being readily available in retail outlets, despite the re launch in 2000 by Hasbro’s with their Subbuteo Dream Team package. Tournaments are still played worldwide, and clubs appear to be thriving and there are many people who are still avid collectors of Subbuteo, from the very rare teams and accessories to the more run of the mill items which they use for playing.

Did your father have any regrets in regards to the game and were there any ideas that he had that did not see the light of day, and could you give us a few examples if there were?

MA: I believe his only regret was that he sold Subbuteo to Waddingtons far too early in the company’s development in 1969. At the time, it seemed a good idea and the deal that was offered was too good to pass up. He sold Subbuteo for £250,000, which in 1969 was a huge amount of money – maybe around ten million in todays terms. He felt that under the Waddingtons umbrella, his brand of Subbuteo that he had built up over many years had lost its personal and hands on appeal. It had gone from what was basically a cottage industry to being just another brand in a large conglomerate.

Having sold up, he still could not let go and Dad and myself, had a cheeky idea to develop a very similar game to Subbuteo, but with different and unique accessories and try to sell it back to Waddingtons. Prototypes were produced and a small run of games produced, but, quite rightly so, Waddingtons refused to play ball with our new game, and promptly slapped an injunction on Dad to stop any more similar games being produced. It was fun though!

What lasting legacy do you think your Dad would have been most proud of? That the game is still being played to this day? Or that fans from all over the world play his game?

MA: I am sure that Dad would have been pleasantly surprised that the game is still going and that the brand name of Subbuteo is still very much in people’s consciousness, especially people of a certain age who were brought up with Subbuteo in the sixties and seventies.

Given that your Dad invented the game, how was he at playing the game? Was he an expert at it? And how are you at playing it? Do you enter competitions or do you take a back seat in those sort of things?

MA: I touched on this in a previous answer, but Dad was good, of course. He was able to make the players “dance”, and had a lovely deft touch – and an incredible hard and accurate shot.

His one downfall, I have to admit, was that he did tend to bend the rules whilst a game was in progress, to suit himself. It was done in jest most of the time, but who was anyone to question him!! When I played a lot during the seventies, I was reasonably adept at playing Subbuteo, and always my yardstick was how well and how convincingly I beat Dad!

I never played in competitions, as to be honest I was never up to that standard. These competition players are a joy to behold when playing at the top of their game. Nowadays though, it seems to me that competition Subbuteo is a far cry from the early days, mainly due to the fact that the bases are very different and do not have any spin capability, so the game ends up being played in straight lines. I suppose it is progress but I admit to being stuck firmly in the seventies, where Subbuteo is concerned!

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About Author

scotzine

Andy Muirhead is the Editor of Scotzine and the Scottish Football fanzine FITBA. He is the Scottish Football columnist for The Morning Star and has written for a number of other publications including ESPN, Huffington Post UK, BT Life's a Pitch and has had his work featured in the Daily Record, The Scotsman and the Daily Mail.

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